Ace-in-the-Hole Cider owner Geoffrey House is in a bit of a conundrum. He's sad to see his pub at the corner of Highway 116 and Graton Road close, but he's excited about the expansion of his business. The first cider company in California, Ace is now found in some 33 states across the nation and is even making a serious inroad to the toughest market around, that of Old Blighty across the pond, where the very good idea of drinking the natural fermentation left rotting in orchards was probably old news by Chaucer's time.
But for 11 years, North Bay residents have enjoyed a cider in House's relaxed pub atmosphere, one equally friendly to moms and their children as it is to twenty-somethings as it is to area musicians as it is to smokers as it is to dog lovers as it is to those just hoping to run into someone they know. Offering free music almost nightly and a good selection of microbrews and House's own Pinot blend in addition to the cider that build the biz, Ace-in-the-Hole has lost its lease and closes on Dec. 23. The production facility will move back to a former home at Sebastopol's VacuDry plant where it will expand in production by some 16,000 gallons. House is considering moving his pub operation to downtown Sebastopol across from Gravenstein Station but won't reopen unless everything is right. Business, frankly, is just too good.
"We are exploring the opportunities, but if at the end of the day it doesn't add up, the main business for us is developing our production, which is now at $3.5 million," House says. "We're trying to take it to $10 million in the next five years. Our bread and butter is the cider, and while we will allow people to fill jugs up in the new [VacuDry] location and have a small tasting area, that may be sufficient."
House credits the rise of the microbrew in educating palates and the slump in fine wine sales in opening wallets as contributing to his cider's profitability. "Younger people now definitely know what cider is," he says. "Occasionally people order what they think is an apple juice for their son and we get a gasp. But the majority of people now know what it is. It's really good stuff for $3.49 a bottle," he laughs, "and in some ways, with the collapse of the very expensive wine business, people are looking for more value."
Ace plans a slate of special concerts and events as the month draws to a close, giving regulars and those who haven't visited the pub in a while a chance to come by and say adieu. House is somewhat bemused by the turn his life has taken. "We're being forced to expand, which is good; it's about time I did something." But, he admits, after 11 years of presiding over his own personal drinking spot, "I will have a problem knowing where to go."
Ace-in-the-Hole Cider Pub, 3100 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopl. 707.824.1101.
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